Politics

Bureaucrat tried to undercut cabinet's powers with shipbuilding project leak: Crown

A federal public servant was accused Tuesday of trying to undercut cabinet's decision-making powers by intentionally leaking sensitive documents about a $700-million shipbuilding project.

Crown prosecutor levelled the accusation during opening arguments in a breach of trust trial

The Davie shipyard in Levis, Que. on Dec. 14, 2018. A federal public servant is facing a breach of trust charge related to a $700-million shipbuilding project involving Davie. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A federal public servant was accused Tuesday of trying to undercut cabinet's decision-making powers by intentionally leaking sensitive documents about a $700-million shipbuilding project.

Crown prosecutor Mark Covan levelled the accusation during opening arguments in the breach of trust trial for Matthew Matchett, who is an analyst with the federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency.

"Cabinet is composed of ministers who are elected representatives. They make decisions. Oftentimes they are among the most significant decisions that our government makes, and they are accountable to Parliament for those decisions," Covan told jury members in an Ottawa courtroom on Tuesday.

"This case is about that decision-making process. This case is about the Crown's allegations that Mr. Matchett attempted to corrupt, influence or exercise partiality in relation to that decision-making process. It was not his decision. This decision belonged to cabinet."

Matchett was charged with one count of breach of trust in February 2019. He has pleaded not guilty.

The trial, which began Monday, is scheduled to run for four weeks.

The shipbuilding project in question related to a deal negotiated by the Harper government in 2015 for Quebec shipyard Chantier Davie to lease a converted civilian ship to the government to act as a temporary supply vessel for the Royal Canadian Navy.

The Crown's first witness, longtime lobbyist Brian Mersereau, was representing Davie at the time. He testified on Tuesday that the deal was for all intents and purposes finalized before the Harper Conservatives were ousted by the Trudeau Liberals in the October 2015 election.

That's why Mersereau and his client were surprised and concerned to learn the Liberals were planning to discuss the project at a secret cabinet committee meeting that November.

"It wasn't obvious as to why the new government had to take this and put it back, in essence, to a new cabinet," Mersereau said.

Asked by Covan about the potential consequences, Mersereau pointed to "the obvious one — they could be cancelled (or) delayed."

Mersereau, who currently serves as chairman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies and still represents Davie, said he could not recall exactly how he met Matchett.

He testified, however, that he had been in semi-regular contact with the public servant and reached out around that time to find out what was happening with the shipbuilding project, which the Liberals later approved.

Court heard that shortly after Mersereau spoke with Matchett, a plain brown envelope containing several documents was delivered to his office.

Emails between Mersereau and Matchett were filed in court as evidence, including one sent from Matchett's email address to the lobbyist saying, "I've got everything, the motherlode."

Mersereau said he could not recall exactly which documents were in the envelope, aside from a draft letter to federal cabinet and some other unclassified material about the federal government's broader shipbuilding procurement strategy.

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